The Greek word corresponding to “reprove” is the word e·lengʹkho. At Matthew 18:15 that word appears when Jesus says that “if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault [Greek, e·lengʹkho; Kingdom Interlinear, “reprove”] between you and him alone.” (Compare Leviticus 19:17.) In a corresponding passage at Luke 17:3 Jesus is reported as saying, “If your brother commits a sin give him a rebuke [Greek, e·pi·ti·maʹo], and if he repents forgive him.” Does that show that “rebuke” and “reproof” are interchangeable and mean essentially the same thing? It would be unwise to assume that on the basis of this single example. The way the Scriptures use the two terms reveals the distinction between them.
5, 6. What examples illustrate that these two terms are really distinct in meaning, and what does this indicate concerning their use in the two texts mentioned earlier?
5 In the Christian Greek Scriptures, for example, we find Jesus ‘rebuking’ (e·pi·ti·maʹo) demons, telling them to ‘be silent’ and to ‘get out’ of persons that they were possessing. (Matt. 17:18; Mark 1:25; 9:25; Luke 4:35, 41; 9:42) Nowhere do the Bible writers speak of the demons as being reproved (e·lengʹkho) by Jesus. He also ‘rebuked’ the fever in Peter’s mother-in-law, causing it to leave her; and, on the Sea of Galilee, he ‘rebuked’ the violent winds and raging sea, putting a stop to their threat of capsizing the boat in which he and his disciples were.—Luke 4:39; Matt. 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24.
6 It would be most inappropriate to try to substitute the word “reprove” (e·lengʹkho) in the foregoing cases. One can rebuke even an animal. (Ps. 68:30) But, as we shall see, only humans who have the power of reason and qualities of heart and conscience can be reproved. So it appears that the use of the word “rebuke” at Luke 17:3, earlier referred to, simply illustrates that a reproof may be accompanied by or include a rebuke.
7. What was the sense of the Greek word for “reprove” that the inspired Bible writers used, as that term was employed by people of their day?
7 To what, then, does the Greek word e·lengʹkho (to reprove) refer? It is true that this word at one time was used in classical Greek to express the idea of “to disgrace” or “to shame.” But Greek lexicons show that this was not how the word was generally used.* And they show that in the Christian Greek Scriptures this is definitely not the dominant thought of the word. Note these definitions of e·lengʹkho (to reprove) from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon:
To “cross-examine, question, . . . accuse one of doing, . . . to be convicted. . . . 2. test, bring to the proof. . . . 3. prove . . . bring convincing proof. . . . 4. refute, . . . b. put right, correct. . . . 5. get the better of. . . . 6. expose.”
8. What does this show as to the basic reason why reproof was needed?
8 These definitions are based largely on the way non-Biblical Greek writings use the word. But one thing is quite clear from these definitions. They all indicate that the person who has to be reproved manifests, if not an outright denial of any wrongdoing, at least an unwillingness to admit the wrong or some degree of failure to recognize the true nature of the wrong and the need to repent of it. Such a one shows that he needs to be “convinced” or “convicted” of the wrong. We will see why this point is an important one to remember.
9, 10. How does the Bible also show that it is failure to recognize and repent of the wrong that makes reproof necessary?
9 These definitions are borne out by the Bible’s use of the Greek word. For example, note the text earlier referred to at Matthew 18:15 where Jesus says that “if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault [e·lengʹkho; “reprove (him),” Kingdom Interlinear] between you and him alone.” It is for the very reason that the offender does not recognize or acknowledge his sin and repent of it that the offended one has to reprove him by laying bare his fault.
10 Other scriptures where this word (e·lengʹkho) is used also describe reproof of those who, up to that point, had not accepted correction, showing this by keeping on in their wrongdoing.—Compare Luke 3:19; John 3:20; Ephesians 5:6, 7, 11-14; 2 Timothy 4:2-4; Titus 1:9-13; 2 Peter 2:15, 16.
Robinson’s Lexicon of the New Testament says of e·lengʹkho: “to shame, to disgrace, only in Homer [a Greek poet of pre-Christian times]. . . . Usually and in N[ew] T[estament] to convince, . . . to refute, to prove one in the wrong.”
Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament says: “In earlier classical Greek it signifies to disgrace or put to shame . . . Then [later], to cross-examine or question, for the purpose of convincing, convicting, or refuting. . . . Of arguments, to bring to the proof; prove; prove by a chain of reasoning.” (Italics ours)